As 2007 draws to a close, ConfectioneryNews.com takes a look at some of the trends that dominated the chocolate industry this year.
Healthy confectionery and functional ingredients Unquestionably, the biggest trend this year has been healthy chocolate - with manufacturers adding functional "healthy" ingredients to confectionery products as well as promoting the benefits of cocoa. Many companies have set up research laboratories specifically for this aim, such as Barry Callebaut. In November the firm discussed research into hidden cocoa properties with journalists at the Food Ingredients Europe show in London.
Manufacturers have consequently promoted dark chocolate - which contains higher levels of cocoa, therefore higher levels of antioxidants. Examples of the numerous product launches include Lindt's Creation 70 bar, filled with a 70 per cent cacao chocolate mousse, and the new dark chocolate version of Ferrero Rocher, released on the European market in September.
Many companies did not rely on cocoa alone, and invested in value-added ingredients for confectionery products. Flavanols was a big buzzword this year, with products such as the CocoaVia range from Mars hitting retail shelves worldwide, as was 'superfruits'. Phytobase and Hershey-owned Dagoba both created chocolate products this year containing fruits such as acai, goji, pomegranate and currants, all of which are thought to be rich in antioxidants.
Luxury and premium chocolates Although seemingly contradictory to the health trend, premium innovations have flooded the market this year, as consumers still see chocolate as a rewarding and luxurious treat.
Several of the big companies have enlisted the help of expert truffle makers, such as Nestle, which went into partnership with Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini earlier this month, and the UK-base Zetar, which this week acquired Lir chocolates in Ireland. The truffle trend even tempted the Spanish firm Natra, prompting the company to acquire a factory in Belgium, despite manufacturing primarily chocolate spread and industrial chocolate ingredients previously.
One popular gourmet trend is single origin chocolates, with Barry Callebaut and Elizabeth Shaw both using cocoa coming from only one source, such as single crop in Venezuela or Vietnam. Some companies also decided to re-work previous chocolate ranges to give them a 'gourmet twist'.
In August, Nestle announced the re-launch of its dark chocolate Black Magic range, stating that more and more consumers see these chocolate boxes as luxurious treats, rather than an everyday sugar rush.
Ethical chocolate Sales of ethically sourced chocolate have boomed over the course of the year, as consumers and industry alike start to take more concern over where their favourite sugary treat comes from. According to the latest figures from the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International (FLO), global sales in fairtrade products increased 37 per cent to €1.1bn (£758m) in 2007, a massive increase from the year before.
With sales so high, most leading chocolate manufacturers have pledged not to exploit their cocoa farmers - most of whom are situated in third world countries such as Ghana. In November, Blommer chocolate established a sustainable cocoa farming programme in the Ivory Coast.
The 2007 ethical chocolate trend has not only been about sourcing however, as the industry has invested in new products and innovative marketing techniques over the year. Only this month, Divine launched new chocolate boxes and Divine after-dinner mints, that help boost the company sales by 15 per cent this Christmas, while both Sainsbury's and Morrison's began selling their own brand Fairtrade chocolate in January.
One of the most innovative marketing campaigns was launched by the Dubble Fairtrade brand, which created a competition to design an on-line chocolate computer game. The DubbleClick game not only entertained children, it also helped spread the ethical chocolate word amongst the younger generation.